Welcome to Week 2 of the Online Book Club!
How are you enjoying Small Island? I didn’t really have any idea what the book was about when I started reading, so I have been surprised by the story and the characters. I’ve appreciated that this is a different type of World War II story than the ones I usually read.
In the first nineteen chapters, we mostly hear from Hortense and Gilbert. Hortense does not present herself as a very likeable character in these first chapters. She obviously has a high opinion of herself, and she finds it hard to interact with others. Were you surprised by the way that Gilbert and Hortense got together? I really wonder what happened to Hortense’s friend, Celia. It was so sad that she felt like she couldn’t stay with Gilbert just because she happened to have a mother that was mentally ill.
Gilbert’s chapters were really moving and sad to me. Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have any knowledge of the struggles that Jamaican immigrants had in England, so I was saddened to read about the discrimination and hatred that Gilbert faced. I think the most heart wrenching section was the part where Gilbert talks about how he knew everything about England, his Mother Country. He says, “But as for me I had just one question—let me ask the Mother Country just this one simple question: how come England did not know me?” (p. 117). How heartbreaking—he was fighting for this country that he always looked up to and believed in, but when he actually got there, he realized that no one cared about him and his small country. I couldn’t believe how many people asked him if Jamaica was in Africa. It seems crazy to think that Jamaica was under British rule, but so many British people had no idea where Jamaica was. It was also heartbreaking that Gilbert desperately wanted to do anything other than drive, but when people looked at him, all they could see was a driver.
Gilbert and Queenie were an interesting pair in this section. Were you shocked that the movie theater incident got so out of control? Could you believe that Arthur became a victim of the war?
What are your impressions so far? Who is your favorite character? My favorite character is definitely Gilbert—I feel the most drawn to his narrative. What did you all think of Queenie and Hortense?
While doing research on the author, Andrea Levy, I stumbled upon this video. Check it out if you are interested to hear her talk more about the book and her experiences growing up with Jamaican immigrant parents.
Please let me know what you thought of these first chapters. I am interested to see if this story was surprising to any of you. And I really want to know what you think of all of the characters!
Join me next week as we discuss chapters 20–34. I hope to hear from you then.